Slovenian Man Bites Two At Dog Show

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(source)

OK, so it’s not exactly the same as the legendary “Man Bites Dog“, and I’m sure you’ve probably seen it already, but to lighten the load of international treaties, accusations of high treason and the fact that suddenly this country is replete with experts on international law (just as it was replete with experts on English language a week ago), here’s something completely different

(…)a man is alleged to have bitten two people following a dog show in the Latvian capital, Riga, on Sunday, the Baltic News Service reported Tuesday. Police were called after a 27-year-old dog handler from Slovenia reacted in canine fashion when the dog he was parading failed to perform as well as he had hoped. (source)

Apparently the guy was from Maribor. Figures 😈

Pahor-Kosor Agreement Could Usher Major Shifts In Slovenian Politics

Prime Ministers Jadranka Kosor and Borut Pahor signed the agreement on arbitrage in the border dispute between the two countries in Stockholm, Sweden an hour ago. This brings the process almost back to the point it had once already reached with the Drnovšek-Račan agreement of 2001. This time around, however, we do not have a final solution, but rather an agreed mode of seeking the solution in front of a court of arbitrage. However, once the agreement is signed, it will have to be ratified by both parliaments. Specifically, this means that Croatian parliament will have to support the agreement with a 2/3 majority, whereas Slovene parliament will need to secure a relative majority of all MPs present at the time of the vote. In case of Slovenia, this is where it gets interesting.

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Pahor and Kosor sign the deal, witnessed by Swedish PM Fredrik Reinfeldt (source)

After parliamentary committee on foreign relations supported the agreement yesterday (enabling PM Pahor to sign the deal), opposition leaders started talking about holding a referendum. Technically, it should be a cakewalk. All that would be required are 30 MPs (a third of the parliament) formally requesting the referendum. Between Janez Janša’s Slovene Democratic Party (SDS) with 28 votes, Radovan Žerjav’s Slovene People’s Party (SLS) with seven and Zmago Jelinčič’s Slovene National Party with five votes, this should really not be a problem.

However. A little birdie told pengovsky yesterday that Janez Janša is not at all keen on a referendum. Janša himself said as much later in the evening after appearing on state television and saying that it will probably come to a referendum, but as a result of a civil initiative. Which means that SDS will not chip in their 30 MPs, but will let SLS and SNS collect 40.000 signatures needed to hold a consecutive referendum on ratification of the Pahor-Kosor agreement.

Why is that? We’ve touched upon the answer in yesterday’s post. By signing the agreement PM Pahor basically put all of his eggs in one basket, crucially exposing himself and (by extension) his coalition. Should the agreement fail one way or the other, he will probably have to resign. Janša obviously sensed that and is doing plenty to make this happen. However. As former PM and having been humiliated by former Croatian PM Ivo Sanader on the border issue (Ivo Sanader famously cajoling him into accepting international law as the sole point of reference in solving the dispute), Janša knows perfectly well just how fantastically complicated a quagmire this border dispute actually is. So Janša is looking to bring down the government by beating Pahor over his head by repeating incessantly just how bad this agreement is, but stopping short of shooting down the agreement itself, hoping that SLS and SNS will do the dirty work for him.

The nationalist are in this probably just for fun, because their “postmodern” politics allows them to quicky adopt a new political platform, which does not necessarily correspond with anything they’ve advocated to date. All they need is an unoccupied political niche which will bring enough votes. If the dispute is solved, my bet is that they will either run on a platform of protecting Slovenian minorities in neighbouring states or start advocating some far fetched “solution” for the economic crisis.

As we noted yesterday, SLS is following its own agenda, which is basically very simple. Solving the border dispute would deprive them of a big part of their political platform, so it is in their vital interest that the agreement does not come to fruition. Basically, they’re fighting for survival. And this is where it gets complicated, as SLS’ political demise is one the of not-so-covert mid-term goals of Janez Janša. His ambitions to be the sole political factor on the political right (the only one worth mentioning, at the very least) were nearly fulfilled in 2008 elections, where he squeezed his junior coalition partner Christian Democratic Nova Slovenija (NSi) out of the parliament. The party didn’t make the 4% cut, a fate SLS (the other Janša’s coalition partner) only narrowly avoided.

Things get an additional thrust when one takes into account the fact that municipal elections are less than a year away. Municipal (local) elections are interpreted as a mid-term measure of strength of political parties. And although people tend to read too much into them, they can have a huge psychological impact. And this time around, autumn 2010 can be a turning point for future development of political right in Slovenia.

Namely, NSi is desperate to stage a comeback. They managed to hold on to the fringes of the political arena by their fingernails by winning a single seat in this year’s European elections and are desperate for a strong showing on local level, which would give them enough base and confidence to try to re-enter parliament in 2012 (which would be a first, by the way. Until now, once a party dropped out of the parliament, it stayed there). Given the fact that their near-death experience left an unhealthy vacuum in the Christian democratic niche of the political spectrum, they actually stand a chance, since both SDS and SLS have failed to move in and fill the vacuum completely. But the question is if there’s enough space left for them (errr… right for them… errr… nevermind…)

On the other hand, Janša and his SDS will want to reassert their dominance over SLS and NSi as well as stick one up Pahor’s ass and score an all-round victory. Which is not all that unlikely a prospect given the fact that the government’s ratings are going south as it is and that a rebound is nowhere in sight. In a year’s time the Pahor-Kosor agreement will again become a hot political potato, provided Pahor survives the referendum or at the very least avoids one in the near future. By autumn 2010 Croatia will probably have finished the negotiations and the ratification process will begin. Which is the trigger for the actual arbitrage proceedings to start, which will then cue in vicious rhetoric on betrayal of national interest and that is very much likely to hurt the electoral result of Pahor’s Social Democrats and of the ruling coalition as a whole.

So, what we’re seeing today is actually a multi-way chess game with everyone playing against everyone else simultaneously. Slovenian government against Croatian government. Then we have Slovenian government against Slovenian opposition, which is aiming to destabilise the government by undermining the treaty. Then we have the three opposition parties against each other, each with its own agenda. Putting all of this together, it can start a chain-reaction which will culminate in local elections, where finally, we have the ruling coalition which will want to capitalise on their election victory and score major points in local communities as well, with the opposition looking to hurt the coalition as much as possible.

And suddenly, a year from now, we might end up with a significantly different political landscape, regardless of the fact that things looked boringly predictable only a week ago. And the Pahor-Kosor agreement signed today can be a catalyst for all of it.

Croatian Parliament OKs Agreement, Slovenian Opposition Mulls Referendum

Yesterday evening Croatian parliament voted to approve the arbitration agreement between Croatian PM Jadranka Kosor and her opposite number in Slovenia Borut Pahor aimed at finally solving the border dispute between the two contries. The debate in Sabor (the parliament) was fierce and Kosor had to endure a barrage of criticism and insults. She was even accussed of “premeditated high treason” (as if there’s any other kind), giving away 100 square kilometres of Croatian sea and so on ad nauseam. Kosor responded by saying that the agreement is the best possible under current conditions and that the clause 3b does not automaticlly mean direct Slovenian access to high seas. But just to be sure, she attached an unilateral statement to that effect, which she hopes will be co-signed by the Swedish EU Presidency. In the end, despite everything eighty MPs out of 134 voted in favour of the agreement.

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Sabor votes on the agreement (photo: Ranko Šuvar, source)

One of the results of the vote is that we can now finally see the official text of the agreement (scroll down to page 7 for English original), specifically, the infamous clause 3b, which speaks of “Slovene junction to high seas”. But even more importantly, the document reveals (in Article 11) that the whole procedure will begin only after Croatia signs the EU accession treaty. Now, as with clause 3b, this particular stipulation is being read almost as many ways as there are people reading it (on that note, let me add that the amount of experts on English language has risen dramatically on both sides of the border in the past few days since the document was leaked).

Anyhoo. The Croatian position seems to be that Croatia will enter the arbitrage proceedings as a full member of the EU which should even the odds against Slovenia in terms of political leverage. It also believes that this is a way to avoid a possible Slovenian referendum on Croatian EU entry due to an unfavourable decision by the court. Given the fact that the EU membership process usually lasts about a year, while the court is expected to deliberate at least three years, they may well be on to something.

Thus the ball entered the Slovenian court, where the unilateral statement Croatia added to the document is making everyone nervous. PM Pahor already said that – should the Swedish presidency co-sign the Croatian statement (as per Kosor’s wishes) – the deal is off as the statement can be understood to deny Slovenian direct access to high seas and can therefore influence the interpretation of the text of the actual agreement. But as he is preparing to run the agreement by the parliamentary foreign relations committee once again, the opposition is rumoured to be preparing a motion to severely stall the process or even to call a referendum on the agreement itself.

This is in part fuelled by an opinion by former judge at the constitutional court Janez Čebulj, who days ago wrote that referendum on the arbitrage agreement should be held before the two PMs sign it and not after the deed. Now, one can say that Čebulj’s opinion is biased and politically motivated. After all, he is known to be on good terms with the political right and rumour had it that he on more than one occasion leaked information on politically sensitive issues to SDS before the Court’s final rulings. However, on the whole he was a good constitutional judge, much better than many people are willing to admit. Therefore his opinion carries weight. PM Pahor and the coalition will have to present good arguments against holding a referendum at this junction (pun very much intended)

On the other hand, it has to be said that the opposition, specifically, Janez Janša of SDS, Radovan Žerjav of SLS and Zmago Jelinčič of SNS probably have ulterior motives for shooting down the agreement. This is a very tricky moment for the government as well as for PM Pahor personally. If he fails, his credibility will have been damaged the field of foreign relations, the only area where he indisputably knows where his towel is. So, shooting down the agreement basically means shooting down Pahor and forcing him to resign from office. Or, at the very least, making him extremely docile.

Also, resolving the border dispute would deprive the current opposition of a big part of their political platform and – as a result – of their electorate. Curiously enough, this would least affect Jelinčič’s nationalist party, as their platform shifts to accommodate an untapped source of votes (being strongly nationalistic in 1992 and 1996, they campaigned on a pro-Serb, anti-NATO platform in 2000). Lack of Slovene-Croat border dispute would damage Žerjav’s Slovene People’s Party (SLS) as the dispute is more or less their raison d’etre, but it would also make dent Janša’s ratings, although not by much.

So, there are a few ways how this could still go wrong. We’ll see later today how things turn out. A Cabinet session is due to start in about 15 minutes, after which parliamentary committees on foreign and EU relations will convene in a special session and debate the issue.

However, the opposition can use its 30+ votes to call a subsequent referendum only after the agreement is ratified in the parliament (presumably mid-December). If they wanted to hold a conslutative referendum, they’d have to convince a majority of MPs, which is not likely to happen any time soon. The bottom line therefore is, that the referendum is most likely to be held some time in early 2010. Unless of course someone devises a smart way of avoiding it altogether.